Monica Seles, a former No. 1-ranked tennis player, won 9 Grand Slam singles titles, 53 career titles and a bronze medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. She officially retired in 2008, five years after her last match. Seles, 37, was in Manhattan last Monday to help kick off Wimbledon by playing against select fans on a grass court at Rockefeller Center, part of a series of activities presented by HSBC Bank.
Q. What have you been doing in retirement?
A. Well, I’ve been trying to keep busy. I wrote a book two years ago called ‘Getting a Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self,’ and I do a lot of motivational speaking about getting into the best shape of your life. I also do a lot of tennis clinics for kids, and now I’m writing my first novel, tentatively titled ‘The Academy,’ which will be coming out sometime next year. It’s about a fictional sports academy, and I follow the lives of the people who are a part of it.
Q. How would you characterize yourself as a player?
A. I was one of the first female players to play aggressive tennis. I put every ounce of energy into every ball.
Q. You did a lot of grunting along the way. Did it help?
A. I never really thought it was such a big deal. Many of today’s players now grunt. As long as you’re doing it naturally, that’s fine. I got a lot of heat for grunting in 1992 when I beat Martina Navratilova in the semifinals at Wimbledon. I had grunted many times before, and nobody complained or said a word. It was only after I became No. 1 in the world that it became an issue.
Q. How did it feel to achieve a No. 1 world ranking?
A. It wasn’t such a “wow” thing to me. I mean it was great because it meant I was the best in my sport, but then you have to wake up the next day and defend it. But for me, what always gave me the greatest joy was winning Grand Slam titles.
Q. As a 19-year-old in 1993, you were stabbed in the back during a change-over at a tournament in Hamburg, Germany. Did that have a long-lasting effect on you and did it change your outlook on life?
A. I think it changed my outlook on a lot of things because I realized over one day that everything could have been taken away from me. I was very proud that I came back from that incident and continued to have a great career. About nine years after my stabbing, I was about 30 pounds heavier, and about 45 pounds heavier in total than I am today. I was doing a lot of emotional eating. I had to learn that yes, I could have cookies and other sweets, but I had to have it in moderation.
Q. Who reminds you most of Monica Seles in her playing days?
A. There’s a French girl named Marion Bartoli who is an aggressive player like I was. She has a unique style in that she uses two hands on both her forehand and her backhand. There is also Serena Williams. She has a lot of mental toughness, she’s very focused when she puts her mind to it, and I was a lot like that.
Q. Who were your tennis idols?
A. Growing up, I got to watch a lot of matches involving Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. There were so awesome, just how they played and what they wore, I really admired both of them. In those days, there was no Internet, so I didn’t get to see too many other matches. I only got to see the finals of the French Open and Wimbledon. I didn’t even know until I was about 10 years old that there are actually about 120 players in the Wimbledon draw. I thought, ‘Hey, I just have to beat Martina and Chrissy; this should be easy.’
Q. Tell us something no one knows about you.
A. I have been grunting while playing tennis since I was 7 years old. Everybody thinks I just started grunting against Martina in that semifinals match, but that’s not true.
Q. What are your hobbies and interests outside of tennis?
A. I love to swim and play basketball, and I really love animals. I do a lot of charitable work with animals. I still play tennis, but just for fun.